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Officials in Peru are scrambling to help farmers of one of the country’s most emblematic animals, after unusually cold weather killed more than 170,000 alpacas earlier this month.

Heavy snowfall and bitter cold temperatures in southern Peru’s Puno region froze the grass that alpacas normally graze on, leaving large herds in the Peruvian highlands with little food, said Wilfredo Zirena, an official with Puno’s regional emergency operations.

“We expected snow, just not so much of it,” he said in a telephone interview. “It’s been a real challenge.”

To assist farmers, officials have dispatched vitamins, antibiotics and grains to ensure the surviving animals are fed and remain healthy, Zirena said.

Andean women tend a herd of 200 alpacas, an Andean camelid priced for its wool, close to the village of Imata, in Puno, some 1,500 km southeast of Lima.
CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP/Getty Images

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Puno, located near Lake Titicaca which straddles the Peru-Bolivia border, is home to Peru’s largest number of alpacas, whose thermally efficient fleece is used to make sweaters and scarves. Peru is believed to have more than 3 million alpacas (not to be confused with its relative, the llama).

For those of you wondering: alpacas, which are bred mostly for their luxurious coats, are smaller than llamas, which are often used as a pack animal.

Most alpacas are raised by farmers who tend to their herds in the mountains at altitudes around 14,000 feet (4,500 meters) above sea level.

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This isn’t the first time alpacas in Puno have been killed in large numbers because of frigid conditions. In 2013, more than 250,000 alpacas died after snowstorms and freezing temperatures swept across the region.